When people come to Paris, they often ask me where they can find good bouillabaisse. And when I tell them, “You can’t”, they’re always very surprised.
“Well, isn’t it French?” they’ll reply.
Yes, it is. But to get many of the regional specialties in France, you need to go to the region. Hence my frequent visits to Nice, to get socca at the fiery source.
And although you can make it at home, making it in a home oven is like baking off a batch of S’Mores in there: it’s close, but not exactly the real thing. You really do need a wood-fire to get that blistered crust. Still, after much experimentation, I got it close in my home oven and I now make it all the time to serve with an apéritif before dinner.
Socca is basically street food, intended to be eaten off napkins to blot up all the excess olive oil, with plastic cups of frosty-cool rosé.
And for any wine snobs out there that think it’s folly to serve wine in cups instead of glasses haven’t had the pleasure of standing near a wood-burning oven, eating a blistering-hot wedge of socca with a non-recyclable tumbler of wine. Preferably served over ice, Marseille-style.
The quality of the chickpea flour, also called garbanzo flour, is important and my friend Tricia thought that perhaps unroasted chickpea flour is best, although you should use what you can find. Indian shops carry besan, Arabic markets carry it, as well as many Whole Foods markets.
Like most good people of Provence, she consulted the best book on authentic French cuisine available, The Sweet Life in Paris, and used my recipe.
The batter comes together quickly but should rest a few hours before using. A nice pour of good olive oil is obligatoire and a little dusting of ground cumin adds a touch of that smoky taste, similar to a wood-fired oven.
As I mentioned in the book, you ain’t re-creating the Mona Lisa: socca is meant to be in rough shards, eaten with your fingers, and is especially good after a long day on a sun-saturated beach when your skin is tingling with sand and you can lick your lips and taste the sand of the Mediterranean.
And now that I’ve given you the recipe, enfin, I’m heading off into the sunset on a sailboat for a while.
So if you don’t hear back, you can either assume all is well, or I’ve abandoned ship and decided to cast-away life in the big city of Paris for the laid-back vibe of the Côte d’Azur. But at least I’ve left you the recipe in my extended, and perhaps définitive, absence.
About three 9 10-inch (23cm) pancakes
- 1 cup (130g) chickpea flour
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (280ml) water
- 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
freshly-ground black pepper, plus additional sea salt and olive oil for serving
1. Mix together the flour, water, salt, cumin, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Let batter rest at least 2 hours, covered, at room temperature.
2. To cook, heat the broiler in your oven. Oil a 9- or 10-inch (23cm) pan with the remaining olive oil and heat the pan in the oven.
(I use a cast-iron skillet, but Tricia uses a non-stick tart pan.)
3. Once the pan and the oven are blazing-hot, pour enough batter into the pan to cover the bottom, swirl it around, then pop it back in the oven.
4. Bake until the socca is firm and beginning to blister and burn. The exact time will depend on your broiler.
5. Slide the socca out of the pan onto a cutting board, slice into pieces, then shower it with coarse salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil.
6. Cook the remaining socca batter the same way, adding a touch more oil to the pan between each one.
Related Links and Posts
Chickpea Flour (Amazon)
Chickpea Flour (Bob’s Red Mill)
A Taste of Provence (Tricia’s cooking program in Provence)